Saturday, 11 August 2012

Digit Murphy: The Right Person for the Right Job

When the Boston Blades announced that they were hiring legendary NCAA coach Digit Murphy (formerly of Brown University), it sent a message throughout the realm of women’s hockey that the Canadian Women’s Hockey League is ready to truly become the greatest women’s league in the world. The magnitude of such an announcement would be the equivalent of Mike Krzyzewski (the Duke University basketball coach) coaching the Los Angeles Lakers, or Bobby Bowden (the former Florida State football coach) joining the Dallas Cowboys.
While the rivalry (and mutual respect) between the Boston Blades and the Montreal Stars is not as visceral as the Boston Bruins – Montreal Canadiens rivalry in the NHL, Murphy gives the Blades the opportunity to usurp the Stars grip on the Clarkson Cup sooner, rather than later. In a draft that saw the only US based franchise acquire Hilary Knight, one of the most talented players in the world, 2012 NCAA Frozen Four champions Anne Schleper and Jen Schoullis, plus the greatest backstop in Providence Friars history, Genevieve Lacasse, Murphy is the glue that will bring them together as a cohesive unit, ready to eradicate any obstacles.
A superstar at Cornell long before Rebecca Johnston, Brianne Jenner or Catherine White, Murphy proved to be just as prolific as a player. With 213 career points, the four-time All-Ivy selection has the honour of having the Cornell women’s hockey Player of the Year Award named after her. The mother of six, Murphy can proudly boast of seven Olympians having played for her (similar to Tommy Lasorda of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball club having coached nine Rookies of the Year), and a Patti Kazmaier Award winner in Ali Brewer.
As the first women’s coach in NCAA history to reach the 200 and 300 win plateau, respectively, Murphy is in a great position to become the first US born coach in CWHL history to obtain 100 career victories. Her ongoing involvement with USA Hockey is helping to foster the next generation of American hockey heroes, while ensuring that there will be a place in the United States Hockey Hall of Fame waiting for her.
Signifying the relevance and importance of the Title IX legislation, it is fitting that with the 40th Anniversary of the legislation, she takes the helm of the Blades. In 1972, the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup, and 2012 may signify the beginning of a golden age for Boston women’s hockey with Murphy at the helm. With Boston’s reputation as a city of champions, a Clarkson Cup team would add great prestige to the city’s sporting prowess while enriching the history of women’s sports in New England. 
While Murphy has a silver medal from her stint as an assistant coach with the US national team at the 1994 IIHF Women’s Worlds, and a second place finish at the 2002 NCAA Frozen Four, the Blades offer her a superlative opportunity to claim a richly deserved championship – the Clarkson Cup, the most coveted title in women’s hockey.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Jaclyn Hawkins adds new dimension to women's hockey

As women’s ice hockey continues to grow in the early 21st Century, one of the most prominent figures in helping to expand the game, while widening its reach globally is still a player herself. Current Boston Blades player (and former Connecticut Huskies star) Jaclyn Hawkins deserves to be part of The Hockey News List of the 100 Most Powerful and Influential People in Hockey. Having grown up in Manotick, Ontario (near Ottawa, Ontario, the capital of Canada), Hawkins played at the high school level with Chelsea Grills, a future star for the St. Lawrence Skating Saints.
After leaving Canada’s capital region for a new life at The Taft School in Connecticut, Hawkins graduated to the University of Connecticut. In continuing the tradition of Canadian greats who excel at the NCAA, Hawkins captured the Hockey East Rookie of the Year Award, and the USCHO.com Rookie of the Year in 2005, respectively. One of the highlights of her career with the Huskies was scoring a Hockey East record three power play goals in one game (accomplished on October 21, 2006). Her senior season would mark a career high with 41 points, while earning the Hockey East Sportsmanship Award and a spot on the New England Hockey Writers Division I All-Star team. She would finish her career as a member of the NCAA 125 point club.
While her career would lead to a temporary sabbatical, as she embarked on a coaching stint with her alma mater, Connecticut, it would not be long before she returned to the action on the frozen surface. Following in the footsteps of other NCAA stars (such as Andria Hunter and Nadine Muzerall); Hawkins continued her playing career in Europe.
It would be of no surprise that when the CWHL announced its groundbreaking player draft in 2010 (a first for professional women’s hockey in North America), Hawkins name would be announced as one of the selections. In helping to write hockey history, Hawkins was picked by the Boston Blades, the only club based out of the United States. She would continue to build her legacy as one of the most prominent sportswomen in New England sporting history.
During this time, Hawkins created a website that has quickly grown into one of the premier resources in the game. After the first year, the site earned tens of thousands of hits, displaying its relevance among aficionados of the game. Graciously allowing players and fans (both male and female) the opportunity to blog their views on the game, Hawkins has created a forum without comparison. Even in summer, many players will continue to write. Said writing covers subject matter as diverse as vacations with teammates, hockey schools, new arenas and their charitable work. All pieces provide an entertaining and often human side to a game that still comes across as fresh and exciting during the summer solstice.
The true gem of the site is a section where players and coaches can register profiles online. While coaches have a new database upon which to recruit, players are presented with a superlative networking tool. Hawkins has created opportunities for the game which are not only innovative but would have seemed impossible to imagine during the apex of the Nagano Winter Games in 1998. One day, she should be deemed worthy of a spot in the Builders Category of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The resourceful Hawkins has brought betterment to the lives of many women’s hockey players, especially in countries where the game is still growing. While some of these grateful players may have never met Hawkins, her impact on their careers make them proud to call her their friend. She has empowered players to constantly create their own history while exploring opportunities that have brought a wellspring of rewards.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Looking ahead to the 2013 CWHL Draft

With the prospect of CWHL rosters being gutted as respective national teams look to assemble their squads in the hopes of capturing gold at the 2014 Sochi Games, the anticipation of making the right selections in the 2013 CWHL Draft are crucial. In selecting some of the top prospects, general managers will need to make said selections with long-term consideration, as those picks may not bear fruit until 2014-15.
Next year’s draft shall be one in which the gm’s will need to employ great acumen. While the sheer talent of the 2012 CWHL Draft made for a once in a generation phenomenon, many players selected in 2013 will be provided an opportunity that otherwise would never have been made available (due to the absence of many players competing in Sochi).
Despite the fact that the 2013-14 season will be a learning curve for players, coaches, and gm’s alike, there are still many gems to uncover in the draft. Although some picks will see their careers fade once the superstars return from Sochi for the autumn of 2014 (a one and done situation), the players that can exhibit heart, determination will carry as much as value as any high scoring prospect.
While building towards a championship caliber team that may culminate in the jubilation of a 2013 Clarkson Cup, team chemistry and picks with the right attitude will be the key. The players that shall ascend to the top echelon of talent in 2013 are as follows:
The top 10 NCAA prospects (in alphabetical order) for the 2013 CWHL Draft
*Megan Bozek, Minnesota
                Quite possibly, the next Molly Engstrom, Bozek is a key part of the future for USA Hockey. A 2012 NCAA Frozen Four champion, Bozek has strong leadership abilities and would bring improvement to any roster that she is part of. Clearly the best American defense prospect and a strong contender for a roster spot for Sochi.
*Brianna Decker, Wisconsin
                The 2012 Patti Kazmaier Award winner, Decker is on the radar of USA Hockey for the Sochi Games. Having played in two NCAA Frozen Four championship games with Wisconsin, Decker is used to high pressure situations. May only play in the league in the autumn of 2014, but could be well worth the wait.
*Jillian Dempsey, Harvard
                A unanimous All-Ivy selection in 2012, Dempsey helped Team USA claim gold at the 2011 Four Nations Cup. Having scored five goals in one game versus Princeton (on February 4, 2012), her offensive numbers have increased in every season in the NCAA. The native of Massachusetts would be a superlative addition to the Boston Blades.
*Laura Fortino, Cornell
                The All-America selection at defense in 2011 and 2012, Fortino is the heartbeat of the Cornell defense. Will be given strong consideration at the Hockey Canada evaluation camp for Sochi. The top ranked Canadian prospect on defense, she is the early favourite to be selected first overall.
*Jocelyne Lamoureux, North Dakota
                The runner-up for the 2012 Patti Kazmaier Award, Lamoureux is a key fixture in the future of USA Hockey. Another pick that will not play until autumn 2014, she has the talent and ability to make any team in the league an instant Clarkson Cup contender. As a native of North Dakota, if nearby Alberta could draft her, she would add a new element of excitement to their offense.
*Monique Lamoureux-Kolls, North Dakota
                The second half of the most formidable one two scoring punch in women’s ice hockey, Lamoureux-Kolls will try her best to bring the United States a gold medal for the first time in 16 years. If she plays with her sister in the CWHL, the two will challenge Meghan Agosta’s league scoring record, while terrorizing opposing goaltenders for years to come.
*Isabel Menard, Boston University
                Having played with the likes of Tara Watchorn, Jenn Wakefield, and Marie-Philip Poulin at BU, Menard is CWHL ready. Having earned three points in her BU debut, Menard is the kind of player anyone would want on their team. A former All-CHA First Team selection with Syracuse, she helped Canada win gold at the 2011 MLP Cup. Already a member of the NCAA 100 point club, her great offensive skill would help the Montreal Stars and their depleted offense. 
*Josephine Pucci, Harvard
                Another top ranked defensive prospect, Pucci was an assistant captain for Harvard this past season. Like her Harvard teammate Dempsey, she helped Team USA claim gold at the 2011 Four Nations Cup.  An All-ECAC selection, along with All-Ivy League and New England Division I All-Star honours, Pucci is a cornerstone of the Harvard defense.
*Noora Raty, Minnesota
                The number one goaltending prospect in the draft, it is distinctly possible that Raty may return to Europe after her NCAA career. A key member of the Finnish national women’s team, Raty would be one of the few European superstars at the CWHL level.
*Lauriane Rougeau, Cornell
                A key reason that Cornell is a nationally ranked power, Rougeau is another player that will be given consideration for Sochi. The Montreal native would be just what the Stars needed to address any long term needs on defense. Even if she does not play until autumn 2014, to invest time waiting in her may bring back considerable returns.
The Next Ten
*Katie Allen, St. Cloud State
                Emanating from a long line of female players that have played for the Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs in Alberta, Allen is a stay at home defender. While she has less than ten career points at the NCAA level, Allen would bring a stout style of play to a Team Alberta defense that has an offensive flair.
*Blake Bolden, Boston College
Having played with superstars such as Kelli Stack and Alexandra Carpenter at BC, she has quietly assembled a solid career. She has participated nationally for Team USA at various age levels, and may be a favourite to attend the Sochi evaluation camp.
*Brittany Esposito, Northeastern
                A native of Edmonton, Esposito was invited to the 2012 evaluation camp for the Canadian Under-22 team. A Hockey East All-Rookie selection scored the game winning goal to win the 2012 Hockey East regular season title. Would bring depth to the Team Alberta offense.
* Jenelle Kohanchuk, Boston University
Despite being sidelined by injuries in the 2011-12 campaign, Kohanchuk is a highly accomplished player that has contributed greatly to BU becoming a nationally ranked power. A member of the gold medal champion Team Canada squad at the 2010 MLP Cup, would bring some depth to the Team Alberta defense.
*Kristina Lavoie, New Hampshire
                A former Hockey East Rookie of the Year, her productivity has declined since her rookie campaign. Despite the dip in her numbers, Lavoie still has considerable skills. In the right situation, she might be able to ignite the offensive fire that made her a feared scorer in her rookie season.
*Brittany Ott, Maine
                The finest backstop to have stood between the pipes for the Maine Black Bears, Ott has been part of some great moments in Black Bears hockey. In 2012, she helped the Black Bears sweep the nationally ranked Boston University Terriers for the first time ever. In a 5-2 loss to Mercyhurst, she made 69 saves, a Maine record. Ott would be a suitable pick for the Boston Blades if the club loses depth at the goaltending position due to the 2014 Games.
*Casey Pickett, Northeastern
                One of the unsung heroes on the Northeastern offense, Pickett has been a steady player for the Huskies. She participated in the first outdoor game in NCAA women’s hockey history at Fenway Park. A consistent role player who is a solid defensive forward, Pickett would bring depth to any offense.
*Kelly Sabatine, St. Lawrence
                The all-time leading scorer in PWHL (Ontario) history, Sabatine has flown under the radar in her NCAA career. After the leading St. Lawrence in scoring in 2010-11, Sabatine had an even better season in 2011-12. She would log a career high with 47 points to help St. Lawrence claim the 2012 ECAC postseason crown. An All-ECAC selection (and an All-Academic selection), her point totals have improved every season An outstanding special teams player, the Ontario native would be a shrewd selection for any franchise.
*Pernilla Winberg, Minnesota-Duluth
Like Noora Raty, she may return to Europe after her NCAA career. A key leader for the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, Winberg will surely be on the ice for her native Sweden at Sochi.
*Jessica Wong, Minnesota-Duluth
                Having scored the game winning goal in the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four, Wong is accustomed to performing in big moments. A quiet player with an unselfish work ethic, Wong has represented Canada at the Under-22 level.